Mayoral radio show previews brawl ahead

George Hostetter’s inside look at H. Spees, Henry Perea, and Lee Brand’s radio interview with Brooke Ashjian.


“I’ve had to make a payroll,” Spees said. “Most people don’t see me that way because I’ve spent four years in a paid pastorate role that I just dearly loved. It was a wonderful time at Northwest Church. I was senior pastor. It is a large church, an influential church, an important church that was in a crisis. They asked me to come and work with them for a period of time. I loved being a pastor. I’m honorary pastor at First Presbyterian Church. But my heart is serving this city, and putting together creative solutions that actually get traction on the ground that improve the quality of life.”


What about public safety?

“We’ve got one of the greatest police departments in the country,” Spees said. “I served on the Police Chief’s Advisory Board. I’ve been on the commission that looked into the issue of an independent police auditor. Twenty-two years ago, my wife and I were a part of a movement to move into the highest crime, lowest income neighborhood of Fresno (Lowell, near downtown) and be a part of a transformation.

“So policing is critical. Policing is absolutely important. I’m here to say – after doing ride-alongs and being in places where I could see the nature of our Police Department – we are the largest law enforcement that is fully accredited on the West Coast. Our chief has been chief for 14 years and has been in the Police Department for 35 years. He’s an incredible leader. Having said that, we’re in a desperate situation. We were cut from 850 officers in 2008 down to less than 700. We’re building, but we’re not building back quickly enough. We definitely need more cops on the ground.

“I think Ashley Swearengin has done a remarkable job getting us through the greatest recession since the Great Depression without going bankrupt. How we continue to grow the economy, how we continue to see some natural growth in the city budget and how we strategically invest that (money) in law enforcement are key issues. We must rebuild fire – fire took a 25% cut across the board. We’ve got huge community safety issues. The first responsibility of a city is to make sure that we have safe and healthy neighborhoods, that people can live in a safe and healthy neighborhood. And that’s just not for the folks that have high property values. That’s every neighborhood – equal public safety.”

What about slumlords and the upcoming phase two of the Code Enforcement Task Force?

“I think we do need some new policies,” Spees said. “I’m watching that Code Enforcement Task Force very carefully because I’m going to take a stand on that. I think there is a need for policies that include an inside look (interior inspections of rental units). We’ve got too many folks that are – rather than slumlords, I would call them irresponsible property owners. They need to be held accountable. Now, how we create an inspection process that is not onerous on the responsible landlords is a key question. How we shape that in a way that allows for fees to be paid for those that have real complaints (about slumlords who) are violating code so that people are living in unsafe conditions, that’s a real concern. Also key is how we deploy our code enforcement staff – code enforcement staff took a huge hit similar to police and fire.”

Spees said he’s not pushing for landlord fees to pay for inspections.

“There are best practices that we need to put into place,” Spees said. “We need to up the ante on in terms of our expectations of citizens on what it means to be a property manager. I’m a property owner. I’ve never had a problem with code enforcement. My son runs a property management business. There are ways to do business and (for) expectations to be set. We have to establish new policies that create a new outcome without being onerous on responsible property managers.”


“Taxation is the last option, and I don’t think we’re there,” Spees said. “We’re in a remarkable place in our city, but it’s absolutely critical that police and firefighters are paid in a way that is competitive with other locations. One of the things I’m working on is actually getting the data that identifies how many of our folks are leaving for other locations. I know that we’ve put out a big incentive plan to get lateral transfers from other departments. And that was not very successful. So, the question is: Is our compensation competitive? Are the pension and benefits competitive?”


“Well, you’ve got to come up with it,” Spees said. “There are ways to do that in the budget, to reallocate. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Would you take taxes off the table – sign a no tax pledge?’ No, I’m not going to that. Any tax that is taken forward, though, would be a.) the last resort, and b.) in order to endorse it as the mayor I would have to be convinced it’s going to be best for the people of Fresno and there’s a constituency there that’s really going to say yes (to the tax)….We’re responsible to live within our means. We don’t want to go back to a situation where we’re teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.”


“West of 99 is critical,” Spees said. “But in many ways it has been somewhat disenfranchised. That is a critical area for high quality development in the future. If you just look at the creativity that is going into that area right now – there’s Inspiration Park that was just developed. It was a public-private sector partnership. I’m big on public-private sector partnerships. That’s how things get done with limited resources.”

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